I agree that robots will become the worers of the future. No benifits needed, no salary. No question of the improvement in margin for manufacturers who utilize robots.
The issue of what will us poor inefficient humans do? Shorter work weeks then no work at all except for very specialized jobs. If You think outsourcing creates unemployment wait till you see what happens when robots are everywhere. The world will have to change and adapt to support the people who will not be able to find jobs.
Human error is the biggest problem in the engineering and manufacturing world. Take that out, and gobs of money will be saved.
Even the near slave-labor superstar, Foxconn, is planning to replace their workers with robotics. Though, I think in that area it is to combat rising prices. They will most likely see production yields increase due to the bot intervention. They right there may change the world's approach.
I posted before about my Ifactory project with my grandson. It's a manual and CNC 4 axis vertical mill, horizontal mill, horizontal lathe, vertical lathe, Shaper, Cutoff saw, robot, and 3d FDM printer all in one. It is run by a PC and also has a PLC for more I/O and control of air valves for the grippers and such.
Mechanically I have it almost completely assembled. The footprint is 3 feet x 5 feet x 6 feet tall (office desk space) fully enclosed with sliding plexiglas doors. The work space is a 30 inch cube and the machine travels are 18" x 18" x 18".
Electrically I have nearly all the cables routed. Wow there are lot of cables! 5 motion Axis, limit switches, extruder heater and fan, heated printer build table, and two spindles, one DC speed control, the other is motion controlled for 4 axis milling or ridgid tapping. Both spindles have two mounting locations on the moving axis, or on the work table, so extra wiring is need for that. I also have the two control panels, one for AC power wiring, the other for DC motion control assembled and ready to install in the enclosures. Final wiring will take a couple of days labor.
So with the exception of automatic tool changing it is all pretty much there.
RichQ, I agree with your assesment, both on the exciting prospects for 3D manufacturing and on the unliklihood of this patent being granted. Obviousness will prevent a broad patent from issuing, and even a narrow approval of the first claim as listed limits the patent to using two six-axis heads. Any configuration outside this specific configuration wouldn't be covered. Can't blame iRobot for trying, but in a weird way this application becomes prior art to make subsequent frivolous claims by others invalid by equivalence.
The patent issue was my first thought. What, exactly, is it that they are patenting? The idea of a robot that does all these manufacturing steps? How is that something not within the current state of the art? Perhaps the control software would be patentable, but not the idea of the robot itself, I would think.
It is a very exciting idea, and such a device would be a useful tool, but doesn't seem like it should be patentable. (But then, neither do rounded corners.) I'd be concerned that a patent would stiffle the industry, not promote it.
As everybody seems to agree, this is a logical progression of technology, which would imply that perhaps it doesn't deserve a patent, but it's far more deserving than, say, rounded corners on cell phones. I suspect that this system will probably be in the lab for some time to come if it's got multi-degree-of-freedom manipulators in the system. Those components are far more complex that the xyz print mechanisms inherent in typical 3D printers. For example, standard milling machine pricing goes up substatially when you add more than three axes because it becomes geometrically more dificult to maintain tolerances with each added DOF.
As for the model verification aspect of the patent, Stratasys already offers a 3D scanning system for turning real-world objects into 3D models that can be subsequently printed, so I'd expect iRobot's system to use the same tech for inspecting the parts for quality.
Overall, it sounds like the resulting product will be really complex and probably expensive, but I'd still love to work on the design and make it work. Sounds like an engineer's (at least to me) dream project.
Just some thoughts on your question "But what happens to the human workers?".
Without being flippant (I hope, it's not my intent), the answer is "the same thing that happened to candle makers, farriers, blacksmiths..." you get the idea.
All occupations are potentially vulnerable to being replaced by more efficient processes. We are all distressed by the short term (relatively) pain of the situation, but the long term result is that these workers are freed up for other endevours and the better process reduces the cost of the product which results in capital being freed up in another area which will provide new jobs.
The process is counter-intuitive, messy and often painfull. But it works better than any alternative to date. Some of those displaced will never adjust. Others will benefit from the situation that know nothing of what happened. However if we look at the sweep of history industrial/capital age we see overall human kind benefits from the increase in efficiency (compare poverty levels throughout history with the changes in the last few hundred years, capitalism/industrialization has reduced it from the norm in life to an exceptional condition).
Sorry for the lengthy run on this-obviously it is a hobby-horse of mine.
At this year's MD&M West show, lots of material suppliers are talking about new formulations for wearables and things that stick to the skin, whether it's adhesives, wound dressings, skin patches and other drug delivery devices, or medical electronics.
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